Sharing Family Stories

Education, Home & Family, Traditions
on July 24, 2005

Each generation creates a well of wisdom, stories of a lifetime that should be shared with the next generation. But with everyone living such busy lives, and with families spread across the world, we seldom take time to convey the stories that connect us with our past and future generations.

Memoir writing is one way to ensure that your children and grandchildren have a link to their family’s past. It’s a process of capturing stories you remember being told as a child, as well as the ones you create in your own life, and putting them in an enduring format.

Writing memoirs should be fun, not something that makes you anxious. Remember, you are writing for people you love. You get to choose what stories to include and what to leave out. Nobody is standing in the wings with a red pen to make corrections. These are your stories, which can be read and appreciated for years to come. It is the wisdom you have gained, the legacy of your own life that you are compiling for posterity.

Memoir writing should begin by breaking down the process into bite-sized, manageable pieces, making it a project you look forward to completing. Here are three ideas to help you get started:

Use photographs—Go through your old boxes of photos and albums. Choose 10 of your favorite photographs representing different time periods in your life. Take each photo and write down the details recalled and memories evoked by the picture. Describe the people, the place, the emotions of the day, and time when that particular memory was captured on film. Recreate as many details as possible. Attach the photograph to the paper you wrote the story on. After you have completed all 10, have them made into a spiral bound book at your local office supply store or copy center.

Create your family tree—Draw a family tree, beginning with your great-grandparents. After you have listed everyone on the tree and shown how each person is related, write a story describing each person you listed.

Create a timeline—Label one blank sheet of paper for each decade you have lived—zero to 10 years on the first page, 11 to 20 years on the second page, and so on. On each page, choose two memories from that particular decade and make a note, including the year, your age, and the event. Continue the process through each decade. Once you have finished, go back through your notes and write a story describing each event. You might include the year a sibling was born, the first date with your spouse or the birth of your first child. You can even invite other relatives to make notes on the timeline to help trigger more details of the memories you are working to describe.

The most precious gift you can give to anyone is yourself—your stories are ones that will be shared for generations to come. Take the time now to ensure the past is remembered in the future. Remember to start small, with one project at a time. Before you know it, you’ll have volumes of family memories ready to share.